Lisa Black has spent over 20 years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Her books have been translated into 6 languages, one reached the NYT Bestseller’s List and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series. Visit her website: www.lisa-black.com and follow her on Twitter: @LisaBlackAuthor
Research is a wonderful thing, except when a pesky fact gets in the way of something you’ve already written. Ever set a heartbreaking scene among the weeping willows at the city park and then, just to gather added atmosphere for some last finishing touches you decide to actually visit the park only to find that the trees have been cleared out for a children’s wading pool? And they had been birch trees anyway? And the park is right next to an off-ramp so the hero’s fervent proposal would have been drowned out by engine noises?
Sometimes reality sucks.
Yes, you’re writing fiction, so you could erase this picture of the real park and recolor it in your preferred images. But we write mysteries, hard gritty things in which gunshots don’t smell like cordite and heroines aren’t stupid enough to wander around dark basements unarmed and DNA results aren’t back in an hour. We want the details to be right.
I’ve run into this more than once.
In Takeover I had planned a bank robbery to set up the rest of the plot, then on a whim decided to set it at the gorgeous Federal Reserve Bank in downtown Cleveland. However, Federal Reserves don’t function like your corner S&L and besides, the ground floor of the Fed had been turned into a tourist attraction. I kept it at the Federal Reserve and used all my erroneous preconceptions in the story.
I had planned to end Takeover with the criminals faking their own death by driving a car off the end of East 9th street into the cold waters of Lake Erie. I lived there, right? I knew the street came to an end at the pier that used to have the fabulous seafood restaurant at the end of it. I dragged my always-supportive mother along and we did a little photo shoot at the Cleveland Public Library and the Fed, checked out their lobby displays, and as an afterthought drove to the end of East 9th. Which now terminates in a pretty park area rimmed with large, concrete—you couldn’t even call them posts. More like rotund bollards. Any car trying to reach the water would end up with a badly crumpled front end and quite dry.
But, the printing supervisor comforted me, there’s this method…different means, but able to produce an equally grisly corpse. I looked. I listened. And I rewrote the end of the book.
Things usually work out.